28 February 2012

Living Strong?

I have been reading Lance Armstrong's book "It's Not About the Bike".  The book is only 232 pages but it feels more like I'm working through this book rather than just reading.  I can relate so much to so many of the things that he says.  In one of his very first paragraphs he says In bike racing... "you don't fly up a hill.  You struggle slowly and painfully up a hill, and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of everybody else.  Cancer is like that, too.  Good, strong people get cancer, and they do all the right things to beat it, and they still die.  That is the essential truth that you learn.  People die.  And after you learn it, all other matters seem irrelevant.  They just seem small."

People keep telling me that they can't believe that I keep going to the gym and working out so hard.  See, I feel like I just HAVE to.  I WANT to.  I am now learning how to articulate that...

No one said anything like that to me when I was extremely obese...  then, it was "great job... keep up the hard work"... as if then it was the best for me to work out because it would help me to loose weight (it was and I needed the pushes to keep trying).  Never mind the difficulties involved when trying to exercise in a room full of 'fit' people believing that I would never look like them, be able to endure like that, be that coordinated.  I lacked the self confidence to even believe that I was capable of being better than I was in that moment.  Somehow, with lots of encouragement (and blogging), I found that self confidence.  I moved from the back of the group fitness room to the front.  I introduced myself to the instructors so that they would know my name and hopefully push me to my limits even on days when I was just in the building to use the childcare!  I got stronger, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  I dealt with fears.  I found the same girl at the gym that was smart and strong enough to excel in math and science in High School, College, and in the world of Government Defense Contracting.  I pushed myself.  I let others push me.  I found limits that I didn't know existed and pushed right past them.  I got certified to teach Body Pump and found a confidence and alter ego that was capable of pushing myself to the max while encouraging and challenging others to do the same!  I didn't stop there... I got AFAA certified so that I could teach other group fitness classes!  I was taking step classes all over Arlington and Fort Worth trying to find my favorites so that I could figure out what my specific style of step would look like and how I would challenge others! 

But that's about the time that I experienced a seizure followed by brain surgery and a cancer diagnosis.  Something Lance Armstrong describes as racing down a hill on a bike feeling accomplished for climbing that mountain, only to be smashed into a ditch by a 4x4 pickup truck!  A moment when you are grateful to be alive but just plain pissed off by such a sudden and major derailment in your training. 

But then what do you do?  You get on the bike, go home, nurse the wounds, and restart your training with new limits to push through or allow to heal.  He says even when he got so sick it was a struggle just to go on a short 30 min ride, he did anyway, because he could...  because when he was riding he felt alive and it was a perfect reminder to keep fighting and pushing.  That made so much sense to me!  Going to the gym for a class was on my schedule and a part of my life just like brushing my teeth, getting dressed, and cooking dinner.  Not always something I wanted to do, but always something that I needed to do. 

I can remember the day last summer that my doctor said it was okay for me to return to 'routine' activities and I asked her about going to the gym.  She said, sure, you can go and ride a bike or walk on the treadmill.  I made a face and said I wanted to do a Body Pump class!  (I'm pretty sure David was holding his head on by rubbing his temples, he knew what was coming, he knows how stubborn I am.)  She said she had never heard of that...  so I pulled out my iPhone and showed her a video. She showed it to her nurse and physician assistant and they all three said, "YOU did this before?  Wow.  Ouch."  I proudly said, I taught that before and want to again!  They then realized I was strong and willing to fight this disease with all that I could muster if they would just let me LIVE in the meantime.  As soon as I was able to convince my doctor, David, and my mom that I would survive the experience...  I drug myself out of the bed and into some gym clothes and talked someone into driving me to a pump class!

Last week when we saw the oncologist, I asked her how many more monthly rounds of chemo I would need to do.  I don't know why, but as we are approaching the one year mark I guess I expected some kind of change in my treatment regiment.  I was wrong.  I was caught off guard.  She said, "well this is round 6 of probably 18-24 rounds of chemo."  Wow.  I have to keep taking this stuff for another year... at least.  I was (and still am) devastated.  Here I am getting stronger in so many ways but I still have so much fighting ahead of me.  I hate "chemo week" each month.  I hate waking up for 6 days straight feeling like I have a terrible hangover... like my head is pounding as if I didn't sleep, thirsty, and nauseous.  Yet worse because the only fun I had the night before was swallowing some nasty smelling pills, having to sit up straight for an hour so that it would go down and hopefully not burn my digestive tract, and then falling asleep by 9 sometimes in a puddle of tears only to wake up knowing I have more mornings just like that one to look forward to tomorrow.  On off weeks, I have to get lots of blood work done.  Then every other month I have an MRI... sometimes a simple one that is only 30 minutes long, but other times a 2 hour MRI.  I have one of the long ones coming up on March 20.  I hate having to be so still in a tiny noisy tube for 2 long hours, but I do like that it gives my oncologist so much detailed information about this cancer that we are on a mission to kill... to remove from my body... all the while trying to keep my body strong enough to keep fighting.

At the gym, my new favorite game to play is "excuses".  I started this with my new friend Virginia.  She was about to give up.  She made some comment about her age or her knee (I honestly don't remember)... I just remember that I said, "oh, if you want to compare excuses... I'd love to play!"  She laughed and took me on.  I won!  I showed her my brain surgery scar and told her I was currently going through chemo.  She took a drink of her water and we pushed each other through the rest of that kickboxing class!  Not two weeks later in a pump class, Virginia was behind me again and another woman was beside her.  She was groaning and made a comment about being too old to finish this class, it's just too hard for a woman her age she told me... and commented that I was still young.  I told her that I love to compare excuses, did she want to play?  Virginia laughed and said, "say NO, she will win and you will be challenged..."  The other lady played anyway and lost in our game of excuse comparison.  She finished that Pump class and pushed herself right past some limits she was putting on herself.  Now they both get near me when they can... we push each other.  I don't want to be treated like I'm sick but I'm still careful!  I always make sure there is someone in the room that knows where my seizure meds are located in my bag along with where my phone is and how to contact David if needed.
I just really struggle with the extra challenges that this disease puts on the people around me.  It has added a tremendous financial burden to our budget and specifically to David. When I have "sick" days, it makes Kirstyn ask and worry that I might die during the night. When I spend an entire day at the doctor for MRIs and reports, it makes James ask if I'm going to have to go away and stay at the hospital.   In many ways, we have all had to grow up a little sooner than expected.  Our faith and love is growing stronger.  We are trying to be much more careful with our words.  I still have moments of short temper, quick words, and deep depression...  Writing helps me think it through and your responses challenge and encourage me.

I made up my mind a while ago that I was going to fight this as hard as I could while continuing to live the best I know how.  I get frustrated, I get depressed, I deal with paralyzing fear, I seek the face of Jesus, and I ask for prayer and encouragement.  I want my kids to continue to learn from me.  I want to keep challenging myself.  I want to keep learning.  See, with or without cancer, I'm still the same stubborn me! 

But I'm slowly and humbly realizing that I really am an example of LIVING STRONG.  So do me a favor, put aside what ever excuse you are currently using and try to do something that you know will be rewarding but difficult... just make sure the end result will be worth it and focus on that, because the journey there may be much more challenging than you expected!

“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.” - Aristotle


Unknown said...

um. wow. thank you and...keep up the good work, you rock my world.

3 Girls and a Daddy said...

Very inspiring!!

Brandee Ganz said...

Natalie, I love you. I am very blessed to know you so well. I always think of you when wanting to cheat on a meal or not go to workout. I will always remember you asking for a ride and a partner for workout this fall, OR if I wanted to shop at Hobby Lobby instead and just drop you off on the way. I can not let this fat girl shop while the girl with the brain tumor hits the gym... so much for excuses!!

Jessica said...

Perfectly said, my friend. :)

Kamis Khlopchyk said...

You inspire me daily and reading your words here was a privilege. Thank you for sharing your journey and I laughed out loud at the sharing of excuses. NO DOUBT you win.

Keep up the good work my friend! You go this!

Virginia said...

WOW! Natalie you are the bomb! What a inspiration you are to all. What a testimony. You are right you won the our "excuse challenge" and also you are a TRUE WINNER at that cancer battle. I love you sweetie! Keep up the good work. Thank you God for bringing such a great lady into my life. Natalie... Live, Laugh and Love

LuckyOnce said...

Very powerful post. Keep fighting, girl!

Unknown said...

You have no idea how badly I needed to read this today. I've been following you for a long time (since the diet days) but lately my struggles have been a lot more personal. Things that have to do with my marriage and whether or not I want to push through them or throw my hands up. Reading this has given me the courage to continue to fight, to forgive, to lay aside and to remember that anything worth having is worth fighting for. Thank you for putting yourself out there......you have no idea the lives you touch just by being you! You truly are an inspiration!

Nita said...

Wow!!! Natalie, you are the strongest woman I know. And I know that is because Jesus stands behind you. Thank you for this. It was very inspiring. I have been thinking about joining a gym here and working out. You just sealed the deal for me. I have no more excuses.

Thanks so much,
Your friend, Anita

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Anonymous said...

Thank for this blog...thank you for your courage...we all are fighting please know that I am fighting to keep our airshed from being risked for gaswell toxins...I’m late to the game I’ll admit (goin on 4 years now I been fighting though)...we have momentum now as more people wake up to how our town has become industrialized....even now back home from seeing my husband get his catscan to know if we have beat his cancer...my teen has biomarker for an adrnal tumor....reading your story ont he heels of Maddie’s passing makes me a warrior on crack. Fighting and praying for ya Nat